Dorah Marema, GenderCC Women for Climate Justice: 'The Importance of Sustainable Consumption in a changing climate'
Our blogs highlight a range of consumer issues from different perspectives. Unless otherwise stated they do not represent the position of Consumers International.
GUEST BLOG: Dorah Marema
As part of our blog series for World Consumer Rights Day, we asked thought leaders across the world to provide insight into the campaign theme 'The Sustainable Consumer'.
Dorah Marema, President of GenderCC Women for Climate Justice's board and one the founders of GenderCC Southern Africa blogs about some of the solutions to climate change and how consumers can play a part.
We live in a fast-paced world where things change rapidly, goods are designed to become obsolete so that they will be replaced sooner, thus putting more pressure on resources like energy, water, land and the natural environment. This is at the heart of global warming. Climate change is a symptom of a deeper modern-day problem of overconsumption which demands more mining of natural resources, manufacturing of goods and greater offerings of services to the modern society we live in. The sectors that contribute mostly to greenhouse gas emissions include transport, energy, industrial production, services, construction and agriculture. At the heart of these highly polluting and climate unfriendly sectors lie human beings who demand cars, airplanes, electricity, large offices and homes, telecommunication services, technologies, entertainment, fast food and so on. These consumption-related carbon emissions are fueled by a growing consumerism culture. However, carbon emissions are seen as produced by industries without recognizing the role that people make in driving production through consumer patterns. This also results in a missed opportunity to challenge consumers to demand sustainably produced goods and services that will require industries to relook at their production processes and make them less carbon-intensive.
What fuels Over-Consumption?
This modern society is characterized by overconsumption and excessive production resulting in a flood of convenient, disposable, throw-away products made out of plastic that release greenhouse gases and toxins, both during production and when disposed-off. This throw-away society no longer sees value in durable, repairable products that could last forever but prefer to buy mass produced, cheap products that are discarded with little regard for where they end up.
Overconsumption is driven by the need to “want and get everything right now”! Consumers don’t want to wait for anything in these modern days. This has been exacerbated by a flood of technologies like microwaves, machine machines, hair dryers, toasters, cellular phones, computers and so on that make society believe that everything must be readily available at their fingertips. Even though technology has increased efficiency and production practices have improved, many of these products are made out of disposable material that is not easily repaired, resulting in heaps of plastic and electronic-waste filling up landfills and toxins leaching into the soil.
Why is Sustainable Consumption key to fighting climate change?
The United Nations Environment defines sustainable consumption as the use of material products, energy and immaterial services in such a way that it minimizes the impact on the environment, so that human needs can be met not only in the present but also for future generations. This is crucial in order for sustainable development to be achieved and as a result, the United Nations hasGoal Number 12 that deals with sustainable consumption and production. This goal requires consumers to rethink their individual consumption patterns and assess the environmental impact of everything that they are consuming. Consumers should be making consumption choices based on how much water, energy, land and raw materials the products and services they are acquiring have used. This will mean, for instance, deciding to eat less processed food and red meat, driving and flying less, buying less clothes, toys, gadgets and other unnecessary good and services.
What is required for Sustainable Consumption to be achieved?
We cannot solve the problem with the same mindset that created it in the first place. Overconsumption has been a key cause of the global climate change challenge but change in consumers’ patterns are not apparent
Sustainable consumption requires transformational action on the part of the consumer that will result in a fundamental change in the way that goods and services are produced and consumed. Consumers cannot continue with the usual “not-in-my-backyard” attitude where their waste is thrown into the bin to be disposed-off in a place far away from them and perhaps close to informal housing areas emitting a foul smell. It is incumbent upon society itself to look for new and transformative ways in which consumers think more carefully about the materials that are used to make products, where these products were made, how they were made, packaged, transported; how they are prepared, how they are consumed and dispose of them. The life-cycle analysis of products is a very key issue.
Producers have a huge responsibility to ensure that their products are sustainably produced, durable and long lasting. Nowadays, consumers are bombarded by a flood of cheaply produced and available products, made out of petroleum-based materials that cannot be reused, repaired or fixed. Many of these products cannot even be recycled or upcycled for other uses. Landfills around the world are overflowing with products that continue to use up the limited vacant land needed for housing and food production. Industries must consider cradle-to-grave practices where their products do not end up in landfills but can be reclaimed back into their production processes.
Consumer Education and Awareness
Consumer education is critical to ensure sustainable consumption. Producers should be obliged to make information about their products public so that the consumers can make responsible choices. Nowadays, responsible and conscious consumers want to know about production processes, origins of the products, materials used, farming practices and so on. Having this information enables the consumer to make responsible choices and enable them to use their buying power to influence the way products are made. This would make producers rethink their ethical production practices and introduce these practices into their branding.
Consumers are not expected to ensure that industries are producing environmentally friendly goods and services, but they should acknowledge that they have an important role to play. They can only do this if suppliers of goods and services are required to provide information on all the products that they sell into the market. This needs a collective effort where consumers can start to make conscious and environmentally friendly choices and use their collective buying power to demand sustainably produced goods.
Climate change demands society dig deep and go the root of the problem, dealing decisively with the wrongs perpetuated by overconsumption. This starts with the individual changing his/her unsustainable consumption patterns and if done collectively by the entire society will pressurise businesses and industries to produce environmentally-friendly products. In this way we can make progress towards preserving this planet, the only home to humans and all species - the only one for the future generations to come!